The Joy of Curating: Jumping Hurdles


There are many characteristics to our hobby.  Board and role-playing games are about entertainment, creativity, socialization, art and/or intellectual stimulation.  Another major element is collecting – the amassing of games for practical use or otherwise. This aspect often drives amusing discussions about why we collect often inumerable games.  Many look at their stuffed closets and sagging shelves with pride. Others with embarrassment. Likewise, other hobbyists might scan the scarcity of their own collection with satisfaction, while others owning a similar dearth only desire more.  What is an appropriate number of games to own? Is there even such a thing? When does having become collecting? When does collecting become stockpiling? When does stockpiling become hoarding? And when is it time to reduce and just how should one proceed?

This series is about maintaining your collection and keeping it a reasonable number, fully conceding it’s a relative concept.  If you enjoy the mere collecting of unlimited stacks of cardboard and have all the necessary space, this will hardly interest you.  But if you find your ludological hoard growing impractically rampant, this series will discuss managing your collection, deciding when it’s the right time to cull it, address the hurdles to that endeavor, discuss what exactly to glean, look at your options when you’ve reached that point, and end with my own personal journey through the process.  Because, indeed, maintaining your collection is not a one-time job. It is an ongoing process.

The Joy of Curating: Jumping Hurdles

Though the term often gets bandied about in our circles for the sake of humor, we board game collectors are not hoarders.  That’s a real and acutely illogical disorder that negatively impacts people and affects their families. As the popular reality show from ten years ago revealed to millions of mostly unaware viewers, hoarding is a serious compulsion that not only severely invades one’s life, but can create unsanitary, unhealthy, and unsafe living conditions.  So even though I’ve joked about it myself, and sure, there are various levels of hoarding, I think it’s a disservice to use the hyperbole here.

Still, though, we can often be compulsive collectors, very often finding it extremely difficult to get rid of any games, creating an interesting mental block.  I think that also contrasts distinctly from the term “pack rats,” as that pertains to either amassing drawers and closets and garages of useless junk or clutter.  If pack rats ever get to that point of decluttering, most of their stuff is simply tossed out. Board games are not useless, and when we start to cull, rarely are things thoughtlessly trashed.  It’s a relevant distinction, I think. So after all is considered then, perhaps we’re just like the Little Mermaid singing, “Look at this stuff. Isn’t it neat? Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?”  But, alas, we want more.

Again, in that sense it’s not quite hoarding, but a sincere hope that we’ll one day get to play that game.  Which, as I alluded to in my last article, is the second biggest lie we board gamers tell ourselves.  It’s sort of like that pair of pants that you’ll be able to fit into once you start dieting and working out.  Or that stack of books you’ll start reading once you have more free time. Or that gardening equipment you’ll finally use…next spring.  Unfortunately, there are some things you’ll just never get to, no matter your intentions at a given time. And that’s one of the hardest truths to face in life, because it demands we confront something about ourselves.

But the purpose of this installment of my collections series isn’t meant to be so profound or existential.  Still, it’s a truth you must face in order to succeed in trimming your collection and keeping it manageable and useful.  So while there are a variety of hurdles discussed below and suggestions for overcoming them, the biggest one of all is admitting and coming to terms with the fact that there are some titles you’ll just never get to the table.  Staring into the boxes of those that fit the category, and making that determination, is often easier said than done.

So realizing that you’ve reached that tipping point and coming to the decision that it’s time to trim your collection is one thing.  A good first step. Now taking the next step, actually following through with that intent, is another.  And it can be a very hard thing for many people.

Why is that? I don’t know for certain. I’m no psychologist and I’m not even good at gauging people.  However, I’ve done some listening and reading and reflected on my own hurdles that have been difficult to jump.  Below are some real obstacles and thoughts on how to break through them. Yet when it comes down to it, when the rubber meets the road, you must have the willpower.  It sounds quite simple. In essence, it is simple. But it’s an intangible that’s elusive to manage for many. Because a number of things – those hurdles – block our path.

My wife has an aunt who’s rule of thumb is that if you’ve haven’t used it in six months, then out it goes.  This is why I make sure to be useful around the house! However, I can’t come to that same measure with my board games collection!  But one strategy that I have come across to help declutter your life in general, which I think applies just as well with our collections, is the mantra, “Truth, love, meaning, purpose.”  As hoaky as it sounds, I believe it can prove helpful to overcoming these hurdles. Summon up your resolve and willpower and take a game one by one, if need be. Look at it hard. Do you truthfully need this game?  Do you really love it? Does it mean anything significant to you? And does it serve a purpose? With those probing questions in mind, what are the hurdles preventing us from culling and trimming the shelves and just how do we get over them?

The first step.  It’s the first hurdle.  Where to start when a daunting task is before you?  But you know the saying – a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  Okay, so I don’t mean to sound so dramatic! We’re just talking about board games.  But, indeed, the ongoing process of culling has to start somewhere. If you still have that hesitant urge restraining your will to let go, then start with one game.  That’s right. One game. We’ll look at good and logical contenders for that one title in the next article. But when you choose that one, it’s helpful for a few reasons.

First, as I said, you’re starting! Congratulations!  Second, it can be therapeutic, in a sense. It will feel good, I promise.  It helps get you over the “hump” and realize it is possible to do this. And finally it’s good practice.  If the thought of selling or trading or giving away a bunch of stuff sounds like a logistical nightmare because you just don’t have the time or patience or material to deal with it all, then start out small.  Though it can be a tall hurdle, baby steps will suffice to get you off and running. Once you see how the process works, you’ll be able to make a plan. Then it’s all about the willpower to stick with it!

I don’t know what to do!  Taking the first step means knowing where to walk.  Maybe you’ve never traded or sold or donated a game, and don’t know what your options are?  I’ve got you covered! Just not right now! I’ll write a bit more on how to cull your collection and the possibilities of where everything can go.  Suffice it to say, it is a hurdle, but thankfully one of the easier ones to hop over.

Overvaluing.  One of the primary methods of collections culling is to sell.  And since his is our stuff, one big hurdle to letting it go is the fact we’re not getting what we think it’s worth monetarily.  Sure, we can also put a little higher price tag on some favorite that we’ve convinced ourselves we’re less willing to part with.  That’s another little hurdle, really. But it’s related to this one. It’s just that often we don’t want to let that 10-year old, but pristine, like-new copy of Ticket to Ride go for anything less than $20.  I mean, the cards are even sleeved!

Listen.  Board games are not an investment.  There are the rare oldies long out of print than can fetch pricey sums, but that’s mostly based on nostalgia (see below).  By and large, games don’t increase their value. To overcome this hurdle, you can’t be afraid to take “losses.” Not only will you not make money, but you rarely will break even.  Remember, that’s not the goal here. The goal is to have a manageable and useful collection. Don’t hang on to a game, or regret culling it, that you suppose is worth more than what others are willing to pay.  Are you even going to play it if you kept it, anyway? Better to get something out of it, rather than just have it waste away on your shelves doing nothing. You’re definitely not getting any value with it that way!  Considering a trade can be a psychological trick around this mental block – it’s easier to accept another object that’s sort of the same value, instead of parting with it for a hard dollar sign that makes you think you’re giving it away (even though you’ve not).

Nostalgia.  A corollary to the second biggest lie we tell ourselves is the conviction that one day, we’ll introduce that title we used to love to a new group of people.  In essence, we hang on to some games because of fond memories and the surety that they’ll be just as great again if only we can get it to the table. But as my fellow dragonslayer Jen just recently wrote, that’s more often an illusion than reality.  Because much of what made those older games so wonderful was the company and friends with which we enjoyed them.  Overall, games don’t age well. Sure, there are a few evergreen classics that speak to just about any generation or demographic, but most are relegated to the shelves for a good reason.  Games aren’t wine. Unless you’re actually really playing that older title, don’t let nostalgia be the reason that you’re hanging onto it.

Test your memories!  Pull out one of these games and introduce it to your group or family or friends.  Many times, they’ll note it’s age or setting or premise and turn their noses right away. That should be a sign.  Or if they indulge you, see how it’s current play measures up to what you remembered. Chances are, it won’t be the same.  Some things just need to be proven to stubborn owners. When it falls flat, apply that knowledge to the rest of your titles sitting amongst this same category, and rest assured that you’ll be no worse off in parting with them.  

10 out of 10. If hanging onto stuff we don’t use, need, or (deep down) even really want proves a problem, then getting rid of something we truly enjoy is one of the biggest hurdles in the hobby! Most of our highest rated favorites are in our regular gaming rotation. So that’s great! Still, you’re bound to have one or a few examples that aren’t. In fact, they haven’t been off the shelf in many moons. If you’re not playing it, if no one else seems to share your enthusiasm for a particular title, what is the point of keeping it around? I culled several “10’s” from my collection, which I’ll discuss at more length when writing of my own experience. But the bottom line is, this combines the hope and willpower hurdles, and adds another length of personal attachment.

Unfortunately, there’s no real practical tip to address the outliers in this category. You have to find the resolve to let go of the notion that you’re sure to play it again someday. Positive thinking can help. Rather than dwell on what you’re losing, focus on what you still have and enjoy. If you track game plays, start with the first couple that have sat the longest. I think you’ll see that the loss isn’t as painful as it seems, as your gaming fun moves on. Without that title it hadn’t been including all this time, anyway…

Accountability.  So about that willpower.  If you’ve promised yourself you’ll get around to culling soon, but find easy excuses to keep putting it off, then you’ve likely just crashed into another hurdle.  In this scenario, consider bringing in another person to keep you accountable. The best person for this role is usually someone living with you – a spouse, partner, or family member, perhaps.  They’re a great choice because they often have a vested interest in helping you trim that collection as they share the same living space with you – and might need it! Please, just make sure it’s a respectful agreement.  You don’t want your accountability partner being pushy and judgy, while you need to take care not to be impatient and resentful. One of you might end up kicked out of the house!

Another great choice, while seeming a little more odd, is a gaming group comrade.  While they don’t have a personal interest in how cluttered your storage space is, they do have a shared affinity in playing games.  It can be helpful to team up with such an accountability partner so that you can even coordinate your collections culling and hold each other to the fire.  If you work at curating titles for various occasions while your friend do so with different games fitting other types of scenarios, it can be a match made at the tabletop!

FOMO.  Another big psychological hurdle is symbolized by this little acronym – the fear of missing out.  This principle relates primarily with what I discussed a bit more at length when talking about curating your collection, in order to keep it from getting out of control in the first place.  If you’re trying to stay on top of the latest hotness or keep up with the Joneses, you usually wind up in over your head…of cardboard.  Granted, if you couldn’t resist the urge to add titles that you don’t really need or can use, then it’s pretty hard to get rid of them after the fact.  But don’t let it stop you from really looking hard. Don’t worry about not having a complete set of Uwe Rosenberg designs. Who cares what the latest craze is this convention season – because it’s likely to be a footnote by the next.  And no matter how much gamers are talking about it, if you don’t NEED it now…you won’t NEED it in the future! So let it go.

Overcoming these hurdles isn’t always easy for all of us.  Indeed, it could be that some have a form of obsession, compulsion, or disorder, whether mild or worse, that represents another hurdle beyond simple mental blocks, lack of willpower, or nostalgia.  That’s more than this article can adequately address. But once you’ve jumped some of the more common obstacles to culling your collection, it’s time to sit down and figure out what, exactly, needs to go!

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

Discussion1 Comment

  1. Jason,

    As I’m taking this time while on vacation, it does me give me the distance from my collection for reflection on the matter. Currently, I live in VA, while my girlfriend lives in Philly. She’s a wonderful partner and gamer. Your notion of having someone hold you accountable works exceptionally well in so many aspects of life. Again, great thought-provoking article.


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